How would you celebrate your 70th birthday? If you’re longtime Steamboat Springs, Colo., local Todd McMillen, you put on April 8 for a five-day, solo raft trip through Yampa Canyon, contemplating life and rapid lines at the same time.
“I didn’t see a soul the whole time,” says McMillen, who’s been down the stretch 25 times, but never alone. “Being solo gives it a whole new dimension. I’d thought about it for years, and then, turning 70, I realized I’d better do it while I can.”
Rowing a 14-foot raft while dealing with the likes of weather, Warms Springs rapid and Whirlpool Canyon, McMillen put in in the rain and made 27 miles to Harding Hole on day one, getting out only to scout Big Joe rapid.
“It was beautiful, with clouds clinging to the cliffs, but cold so I just bundled up and pushed down,” he says. “The rain, river and raft were my three companions.”
His biggest concern, he says, was getting hung up on a rock, so he kept a Z-drag system handy. But he never needed it. “I know the run pretty well, so it was pretty straight-forward,” he says.
From there he spent two nights at a camp at Warm Springs rapid, and another at Jones Hole on the Green River, before the final push to the take-out. After six days of self-contemplation in the canyons, he made it to the take-out at Split Mountain Campground near Jensen, Utah, where he then drove straight to California for a better-attended family celebration. Then it was back home to Steamboat, where, as a present to his daughter, Ali, he built a porch for their house. “All I know is that building a deck at 70 is much more difficult than rafting the Yampa solo,” he says.